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Love's Tangled Web 

Greek and Roman myths tell the stories of countless transformations. Arachne, for instance, though a mere mortal, was so proud of her skill at weaving that she challenged Athena to a contest. Athena told her to apologize, but Arachne stuck by her challenge. So the goddess transformed her into a spider as punishment for her impertinence and impiety.

You can't help feeling Butch (the only character in Out Comes Butch) would be relieved at such a simple, straightforward flip of identity. Butch is a kaleidoscopic individual. He's change incarnate.

The title of the play sets you up for much of what follows " except that playwright David Schein seems to feel 'in the closet" and 'out of the closet" are not the only two possible choices. The changes Butch undergoes have much to do with gender, and needless to say, Butch starts in the closet.

When the house lights fade, he charges into the playing area like a bull into an arena. He wears coveralls and the leather tool belt of a construction worker. Curiously, he has lots of hair on his face " a imperial beard, a mustache, heavy sideburns. Butch is loud and intense. He complains that he supports 'the bitch" " that is, his wife (or, as we prudently and impartially say now, his partner) " and she just lays around. To make matters worse, he can't get any action no matter how he tries. He does the housework, the dishes, takes care of the kids. He even touches a spot on her neck that's supposed to affect the blood supply to her nipples. No dice. Finally she splits, taking all their electronic trinkets to Dallas 'with some fag dentist."

'I had a hole in my heart, deeper than the Grand Canyon," Butch moans, expressing his melancholy in a metaphor worthy of a Hallmark card. The next day, he doesn't go to work. A shocking truth dawns on him in decidedly un-Hallmark vernacular: 'The f***ing bitch is right. You're an asshole," he shouts to himself.

He realizes that he hates himself more than he hates his wife. And so the moment of transformation arrives. 'I did not go back to work, ' he says. 'My job was being myself." He decides that his new job is to discover who he really is.

He starts reading his wife's sex manuals, which he formerly ridiculed " things like The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. Soon, he's doing experiments in self-control, like not going to the bathroom for 11 hours. He studies himself in a mirror and decides all the hair on his face is a defense. He shaves the beard, tosses the macho duds and reappears as a swinger in a navy leisure suit with four pockets outlined in white stitching and a pink flamingo on the back. He buys a sporty Karmann Ghia and drives around, 'boning up on love vibrations." All this sounds a bit retro, but I was told the play was written in the '70s. Veronica Russell designed the costumes that change with the transformations.

The new Butch gets a job at a record store. No more semi-alcoholic barbarians (read: construction workers) for him. Many beautiful women wander in as customers, and he's determined to score, so he applies the sex manual techniques. 'If you're open and you listen, you get laid a lot more," he says.

'Try it out, dude. You'll get laid, too," he proclaims (pointing to me) " for much of the show is directed at the audience. In any case, Butch tires of the skirt-chasing and to his surprise flips for a guy named Steve who is 6-foot-2, built like Arnold Schwarzenegger and seriously into classical music. The two of them get stoned on some high-octane pot and Mahler's fifth symphony. Adios heterosexuality. Butch becomes a hausfrau. He puts on a wig and ties his shirt across his chest, but to no avail. Steve comes home late at night, smelling of other men.

Butch keeps exploring and transforming, but into what? Arachne became a spider " still the world's greatest weaver but in a form that was unrecognizable and ghastly. He keeps changing, but some things about finding good partners don't. The play appears to come full circle when another woman leaves him.

Under Michael Martin's direction, Frederick Mead performs the show with conviction. What he gives is not naturalistic acting so much as an explosive display.

click to enlarge Butch (Frederick Mead) explores his identity in Out Comes Butch.
  • Butch (Frederick Mead) explores his identity in Out Comes Butch.
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